California just upped the minimum wage for fast food workers to $22 an hour

The change is part of a big workers’ rights package signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Fast food workers and their supporters march past the state Capitol calling on passage of a bill to ...
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Working in fast food has always been stigmatized as a job for teenagers or college kids home for the summer instead of an industry that workers can make a living in. This, despite the fact that most people who work in the industry are adults, and nearly 1 in 4 have some type of college degree already. In California, fast food workers are finally going to be treated as the essential cogs of the economy that they are: On Labor Day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed into law the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, which will raise the minimum wage for these workers and provide new, industry-wide protections.

Under the law, fast food workers in California will be guaranteed a minimum wage of $22 per hour, which will go into effect starting in 2023 — a significant boost over the state’s current minimum wage of $15 per hour. In 2024, fast food companies will be required to continue increasing the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

The law will also create a Fast Food Council, which will be made up of 10 members, including representatives of fast food workers and officials from state labor and health agencies, to establish new standards for working hours, workplace conditions, and health and safety expectations.

On top of that, the law will provide new protections for workers who seek to unionize their workplace. The fast food industry has one of the lowest unionization rates of all industries, with just 3.4% of workers represented by a union. The new law in California could spur a major organizing effort, as fast food workers have seen their wages lag behind other industries within the state and have experienced significant abuse and neglect. Half of all fast food workers in the state have reported experiencing verbal abuse, and more than 2 in 5 said they have experienced injury or illness in the workplace in the last year, according to research conducted by the UCLA Labor Center.

The new law in California represents a major victory for sectoral bargaining, which offers a path forward for negotiating. An employer might be able to stomp out their employees forming a union within their workplace, but they have much less leverage in an industry-wide negotiation. It helps to have lawmakers behind these efforts, as was the case in California, but ideally these standards (and negotiating tactics) will spread beyond the state.